One of my favorite works by Pope Benedict is his “trilogy” about Jesus of Nazareth, and my favorite of the three works- at least this week- is the last, on the Infancy Narratives. Before Christmas Midnight Mass, I reread the chapter on the magi, and I decided it was my favorite chapter. (This week.)
One part always strikes me. In speaking about the Magi stopping in Jerusalem, receiving direction from the chief priests and scholars, he points out,
“The answer given by the chief priests and scribes to the wise men’s question has a throughly practical geographical content, which helps the Magi on their way. Yet it is not only a geographical, but also a theological interpretation of the place and event. That Herod would draw the obvious conclusion is understandable. Yet it is remarkable that his Scripture experts do not feel prompted to take any practical steps as a result. Does this, perhaps, furnish with the image of a theology that exhausts itself in academic disputes?”
The Wise Men had knowledge, which allowed them to know what the star meant, which allowed them to embark on their journey in the first place. Without their hunger and desire for knowledge, the star would have remained an astrological phenomenon to be witnessed, not a sign to be sought.
But knowledge wasn’t their end goal. Encounter was. It wasn’t enough to know the King had been born. They had to meet Him.
Is it the same with us? It’s a good examination of conscience for me, especially in my work as director of adult formation and as a Catholic speaker. I want everyone to know the Truth. I want them to know the Catechism. I want to share what the Church teaches. I want them to dive into the Scriptures and be hungry to know more.
But is my goal to give them knowledge… or for that knowledge to ultimately lead to encounter? If it all remains on the level of knowledge, it will soon cease to even matter to my audience. Why do I need to know these random bits of facts and teachings? Why does it matter in my life?
It must go further – that knowledge must create in us a hunger to not just know more, but to pursue Him, to encounter Him … to worship Him.
“…and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”
And then we give Him everything. And He changes our life.
“Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
Knowledge… encounter… worship… surrender. That is the formula for an abundant life.
The chief priests and scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures had knowledge, but remained busy in their theological exercises and disputes. The Magi’s knowledge spurred them to encounter Him. And that made all the difference.